ST. MARYS -Throw home-field advantage out the window when St. Marys and Wheeling Central hook up in the postseason.
In the past two years, both softball programs have squared off in a Class A regional final and both times the visiting team has won.
St. Marys coach John Mike Nichols would like to buck the trend Thursday in yet another regional final matchup - this one scheduled for a 6 p.m. start in Belmont.
"This is a whole new team, and they continue to surprise me," Nichols said. "When I looked at this team at the beginning of the season and looked at the schedule, I chalked up maybe seven to eight wins if we got lucky.
"This team has kind of overachieved any expectations we had at the beginning of the year."
Since losing consecutive games to Ritchie County and Parkersburg South, the Blue Devils have steamrolled past their last four opponents, outscoring them 41-4.
Last Thursday in a regional semifinal against Clay-Battelle, St. Marys improved to 23-8 after posting an 8-0 victory behind the dominating performance of starting pitcher Mariah Martin, who struck out eight and threw a perfect game.
"She warmed up," Nichols explained on why Martin was so effective. "When she doesn't warm up, you can tell. My assistant stood beside her as she threw 10 of each of her pitches. We made sure she was ready to go that game."
Offensively, St. Marys received multi-hit games from Alyssa Fetty, Abbi Fetty, MiKaela Britton and Sami Crowe. Crowe went 3-for-3 at the plate with four runs batted in.
"Sami is exciting to watch because she hits the gaps so well," Nichols said.
The Blue Devils also played flawless defense against Clay-Battelle, especially freshman right fielder Sammi Clayton. Since being inserted into the starting lineup for an injured Kendra Becker, Clayton has made several nice catches at her position.
"Any ball that has went to Sammi, she has been able to track down and catch - she has really came along," Nichols said.
St. Marys is seeking to advance to the state tournament in for the third time in four years. Last year, the Blue Devils defeated Wheeling Central 9-1 for the regional title.
The Maroons Knights (19-8) earned the right to play St. Marys after holding off Magnolia 2-1. Starting pitcher Sarah Henry struck out the Blue Eagles' Mallory Chapman for the final out last Thursday in Wheeling.
This week's winner will join three other Class A regional champions at the state tournament next Wednesday and Thursday in Vienna.
"Our girls have faced (Henry) in fall ball and we played against her at their place last year," Nichols said. "She has nice movement on her drop ball. She's a strong pitcher."